Footprints Kenya

Kenyan Runner Abel Kirui training (centre, wearing black top).  Photograph appears courtesy of <a href=''> Let's Run </a>

Kenyan Runner Abel Kirui training (centre, wearing black top). Photograph appears courtesy of Let's Run


An ongoing annual series about the connection between Sport and Society, "Footprints 2012" takes IDEAS host Paul Kennedy to the Great Rift Valley, in Kenya. He spends time in the training camp for distance runners that may produce pots of gold at this summer's London Olympics.

The Great Rift Valley in Northern Kenya is generally believed to be the place where the human race originally evolved, and eventually started its inevitable migration to all four corners of the globe. The Valley boasts some of the most vastly spectacular vistas on the planet. It's also "home" to many of the fastest long-distance runners in the world.

For decades now, Kenyans have been dominating the finisher's podium and monopolizing the medals for races run over every distance between 1500 metres and the marathon. Various explanations are often offered for their success. Our ancient ancestors survived as a species because they could almost always out run other animals. They weren't necessarily faster than antelopes or gazelles, especially over short distances. But they could last longer, and thus outrun their dinner, which proved to be an important evolutionary advantage.

The upper end of the Great Rift Valley is also situated about 2,200 metres above sea level. This facilitates what running coaches now call training "at altitude", which is another explanation for the relatively recent success of Kenyan distance runners.

Participants in the program: Kathrine Switzer, Roger Robinson, and Myles Edwards.

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